A Chester County Farmer Went Too Far in 1851 to Save His Kidnapped Servant

Abolitionists won at Christiana in 1851, then lost in Baltimore. Border life was like that, and the costs to keep free blacks free were high.

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Photo by Margaret Scott/Newsart.comEvery action is accompanied by an equal and opposite reaction. It’s Newton’s third law of motion, but also applies to the killing of Edward Gorsuch and Joseph Miller.

Gorsuch, a Baltimore slave owner, died in September 1851. He’d come north to Christiana on the Chester-Lancaster County line to retrieve four runaway slaves being sheltered there by William Parker, a free black. The blacks resisted. Nearly 40 local residents were arrested on charges of treason for resisting the federal Fugitive Slave Law in the so-called “Christiana Riot.” When a trial that December resulted in quick acquittals, Southerners—who thought Gorsuch a martyr—were outraged.

Weeks later, that outrage led to Miller’s death in Baltimore. The Chester County farmer had gone south to rescue Rachel Parker, a free black girl who’d been kidnapped from Miller’s West Nottingham home. Miller pursued the kidnappers to Baltimore and successfully plucked the girl from one of the city’s slave pens. But a rumor spread that one of the abolitionists who had killed Gorsuch was in town—a story made more plausible by the fact that William and Rachel Parker, though unrelated, had the same last name. Miller didn’t make it out of Baltimore alive.

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